US west coast ports temporarily shut down over weekend

The problems at the US west coast ports appear to have become worse over the weekend. The organisation representing the terminal managers said that it would refuse to pay overtime to longshore men who were not working as agreed and thus, would suspend port terminal operations over Saturday and Sunday.

The Pacific Maritime Association which represents the terminal owners released a statement on Friday asserting that “after three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work….especially if there is no end in sight to the union’s actions which needlessly brought West Coast ports to the brink of gridlock.”

The conflict is caused by negotiations over a new work contract between the longshore men represented by their Union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and the PMA. Talks began in May of last year and difficulties between the two sides started November with the longshoremen adopting slower working practices.

Unsurprisingly the effects on the ports along the West Coast have been severe. There are reports of queues of ships outside the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles that are said to stretch for miles, equivalent to a delay of approximately three weeks. The trucking companies carrying containers in and out of the port have declared force-majeure asserting that they are not responsible for the inability to retrieve containers and trailers from the port.

The Longshoremen blame the problems of the effects of larger vessels and the inadequacy of the land-side transport, especially the shortage of truck drivers.

The consequence has been a leap in demand for services into US East Coast ports, reflected in prices which have jumped accordingly and supported by an increase in vessels.

The reaction from shippers has become increasingly desperate. The National Retailers Federation issued a plea on Friday stating that “enough is enough. The escalating rhetoric, the threats, the dueling press releases and the inability to find common ground between the two sides are simply driving up the cost of products, jeopardizing American jobs and threatening the long term viability of businesses large and small.”